Florida is No. 1 AP preseason Top 25
Florida is No. 1 in The Associated Press' preseason Top 25 released Saturday, followed by Texas, Oklahoma, Southern California and Alabama. But the Gators are in a class by themselves, the most overwhelming preseason No. 1 in the history of the media poll.
Florida received 58 of the 60 first-place votes, or 96.7 percent. Texas got the other first-place votes.
The previous highest percentage of first-place votes for the AP preseason poll, which started in 1950, was 95.4 percent for USC in 2007. Those Trojans got 62 of 65 first-place votes — and didn't play for the national title.
Ten preseason No. 1s have won the national championship. If the Gators can become the 11th, they will have put together one of the great runs in college football history. Only one program since 1950 can claim three national championships in four years; Nebraska won it all it 1994 and 1995, then earned a split title in 1997.
With expectations soaring in Gainesville, Fla., coach Urban Meyer has been on a mission to keep his team's eyes on the small prizes — to heck with history.
"There's a lot of guys getting patted on the back and being told how good they are," Meyer said in a recent telephone interview. "Their only focus is on survival to the next day and working hard in practice.
"I don't want them to even think about that kind of stuff. Our goal is to get to Atlanta" for the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The rest of the top 10 includes two Big Ten powerhouses (No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State) and the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion (No. 7 Virginia Tech).
No. 8 Mississippi is in the preseason top 10 for the first time since 1970, when the Rebels were ranked fifth.
Oklahoma State is tied with Penn State for No. 9, the Cowboys' highest preseason ranking since No. 16 in 1985, when Thurman Thomas was in the backfield.
Florida is preseason No. 1 for the third time (1994 and 2001), and the Gators are the 20th defending national champ to start the season on top.
From the moment Florida wrapped up its 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS championship game in January, talk of a repeat started.
And when Tebow a few days later announced at a rally on campus celebrating the national title that he would come back for his senior year, there was no doubt the Gators would be the runaway preseason No. 1.
Florida's rugged, multidimensional quarterback won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and finished third behind Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy last year.
As good as Tebow is — he has a chance to end his career as the most decorated player in college footbal history with three national title rings and two Heismans — Meyer sees areas for improvement.
"I'd say in the passing game he can certainly improve some things," Meyer said. "Leadership-wise he used to get angry when he felt other guys weren't working as hard as he was. Now he gets those players to play at that level."
While Tebow leads an offense with plenty of speedy gamebreakers, All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes — another guy who passed on a chance to enter the NFL draft to return for his senior season — leads a defense that has potential to be the best in the country.
All 22 players on the defensive depth chart for the BCS title game are back. Among the standouts are defensive end Carlos Dunlap and cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden.
All that experience will allow defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to good deep into his playbook.
"Our defense has been installed at a much greater pace than ever before," Meyer said. "That allows you to put in a lot more different packages, three down (linemen) and four down."
The Gators are one of five SEC teams ranked in the Top 25, matching the Big 12 for the most from any conference. Joining Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss are LSU at No. 11 and Georgia at No. 13.
No. 23 Nebraska and No. 25 Kansas are the other Big 12 teams, along with Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Utah, which finished No. 2 last season and was the only undefeated team in major college football, is ranked 19th to start this season. But the Utes aren't even the highest ranked team from the Mountain West Conference.
That distinction belongs to No. 17 TCU, while No. 20 BYU gives the MWC three ranked teams to start the season, as many as the Big Ten and Pac-10 and three more than the Big East, which was shut out.
No. 14 Boise State is the highest ranked team from a conference that does not automatically qualify for the Bowl Championship Series. The Broncos, the champions of the Western Athletic Conference, play the season's first big game, facing No. 16 Oregon on Sept. 3.
Notre Dame is back in the rankings for the first time since the final poll of the 2006 season. The Fighting Irish, coming off a 7-6 season, are No. 23.